This article was originally written for The Meta Maker Wizard support page. Bits have been updated to take into account current practices.
It is crucial that you make your web pages search engine friendly before you actually submit these pages to them. Whilst The Meta Maker Wizard is a very useful tool when it comes to coding your meta tags, it doesn’t actually tell you what words and phrases to write. This is something you have to decide for yourself because your website is unique in topic and content.
The web is growing at such a rate that search engine spiders constantly battle to separate the wheat from the chaff. To this end they are continually adapting their crawler algorithms to cope with the huge indexing demands placed on them, each devising their own solutions to the problems they face.
Keywords are still considered an important element to achieving a high search engine ranking although other signals are now rising in importance. When I say keywords what I am really referring to is keyword phrases. Try and put yourself in the position of someone trying to find your site. Think about a phrase that they would type into a search query box to find you. Think about all the possible variations of this phrase. Make sure your phrases are as specific as possible and try and move away from the generic. For instance if your website is promoting your Bed and Breakfast business in Southern Scotland then your geographical location should be included in the phrase. Trying to compete on the generic search term ‘bed and breakfast’ is just a waste of time. However, competing on the term ‘Bed and breakfast in Glasgow’ is a better bet. Remember that you do not want to chase thousands of unqualified visitors to your website if you want to increase sales.
Make a list of all the possible keyword phrases that you think someone would type if they were looking for you on the web. Our goal is not to use all of these phrases in our pages but to try and discover which ones are used most often when someone is on the lookout for a product or service such as yours.
Go to a search engine, such as Google, and type in the keyword phrases you have listed. Now take a look at the results returned. If the results look highly relevant then this keyword phrase is one you should aim to target. You should also be looking for the competitiveness of the phrase by noting the number of results returned. A keyphrase that returns fewer but highly focused results is definitely one to target. The theory here is that if you try to target a very popular keyphrase that returns millions of pages containing that keyphrase you will have a much harder job on your hands to achieve a high ranking. It will be much easier to achieve a high ranking with a keyphrase that returns only a few well-focused pages. You should now have a narrower list of keyword phrases, ranked in order of importance, to use in your pages.
Notice I haven’t mentioned the keyword meta tag at all. This tag can be added but it is largely ignored by all search engines nowadays.
The most important tag of all isn’t a meta tag but is the page title. This is the web page title, specified in your HTML, which appears in the top bar of the browser window. The secret is to include as many of your best keywords in your page title without making it too long (keep the title under 20 words to be safe from search engine penalisation). Remember that only the first few words are displayed in the title bar of the browser window because of space restrictions so construct these to be human readable. Remember that keywords used in the page title will have a far higher ranking than the same words used elsewhere on the page. Using our example a page title could be something like this:
Bed and Breakfast in Glasgow, Scotland – UK Great Britain holidays short breaks accommodation vacation
The three most important places to have keywords and phrases are in your page title, your body headline text (H1 tag) and the first paragraph of your body text. You want them to all contain the same important words thus increasing your keyword density. This will improve your search engine ranking.
Let us now start to write our meta tags.
Most search engines display results by showing a truncated page title and a description taken from your page title tag and the meta description tag. For good measure make the meta title tag the same as your page title. Your meta description tag should be a single sentence which accurately sums up your site, works together with the page title and contains some important keywords. Make sure your description is not just a list of keywords. It should be a proper sentence and be grammatically correct. Also limit your description to 150 characters at the most.
Remember that prioritised list of keywords and key phrases we produced earlier? Simply enter these into the meta keywords tag. Aim for a combination of about 20 to 30 words and phrases. Never repeat the same key phrase and never use any individual word more than four times or repeat the same word over and over in different phrases. You can however safely ignore the overuse of common words such as ‘a’, ‘the’, ‘and’, etc. Abusing the limits is known as keyword spamming and a search engine may refuse to index the page or ban your site from its listings altogether.
When entering your key phrases into the meta keywords tag remember to separate each keyword or phrase with a comma and avoid putting a space after it. Some search engines are sensitive to word order, others just to the presence of keywords on a page. For some search engines, ‘bed and breakfast Scotland’ is not the same as ‘Scottish bed and breakfast’. Therefore word your phrases in the way you think most people are going to type them in.
The first paragraph of your page body text obviously needs to be written with the reader in mind. However, try and make this paragraph work in harmony with your title and your headlines. This means you should try and include as many of your keywords and key phrases in your page, especially in the first few sentences.
All kinds of techniques have been employed by webmasters in the past to get ahead of the competition in the ranking stakes. A popular trick, used especially by adult sites, is to include a huge list of key phrases on a page that are the same colour as the background. The idea is that the web surfer doesn’t see them but the search spider does. Many spiders are on to this trick and will penalise a page that employs it. As the bigger search engines get wiser to the tricks and techniques commonly used to get that lucrative top twenty spot the more often they tweak the algorithms they use to index the web.
Most search engines are now using link popularity as a ranking criterion. This is all about how many other pages link to yours based on the notion if other sites link to your page, it might be useful. Google originally came up with this idea but has recently changed its algorithm to check the quality of these backlinks as many people were trying to abuse the system by buying backlinks from huge spammy networks of low quality websites.
More so now than ever before social signals have become probably the most important ranking factor. Getting people talking about your site on social media sites or sharing your content puts you on the right track to high search engine rankings.
Each individual web page should have its own tailor made tags to target its own content. However, do include your most important keywords on every page to reinforce your sites general theme and don’t make your tags too long because this may dilute the effectiveness of your main keywords and key phrases. Make use of the ‘alt’ tag in all your images. This is the text that pops up when your cursor hovers over a picture. Some spiders regard the contents of an ‘alt’ tag as text that they can use to index your page. This method is another crafty trick that the spiders are wise to, therefore don’t over do it by making the tag too long or by repeating the same keywords over and over again.
My advice is that you should try and help search engines by making it as easy as possible for them to get a good idea of what your page is about. Use the web to keep up to date with the latest search engine strategies and work hard to define a fine collection of targeted key phrases for your site. Above all, give your visitors great original content. At the end of the day it is your content that your visitors have come to see.
Search engines limit the number of submissions you can make to them per domain. Check out the guidelines that each has with regard to submission numbers. Only resubmit your pages to a particular search engine if a listing with them does not appear after 4 to 6 weeks. Don’t resubmit too soon.
It is claimed that 80% of web surfers will not go beyond the top 30 results returned from a search. Obtaining a high ranking for your website is therefore to your advantage. For current comprehensive information and more detailed tips on search engine strategies visit Search Engine Watch.
Modern day SEO is all about following best practices and providing your visitors with quality original content. Do not pin your hopes on achieving great things with your website using meta tags alone.